''Just Shoot Me''s unexpected success ?- David Spade and co. made the mid-season replacement a hit and a contender to take over ''Seinfeld''s coveted spot

So David Spade is strolling across an L.A. studio lot one morning on his way to a Just Shoot Me rehearsal, when whom should he spot pedaling by on a bike but Jerry Seinfeld. The two stand-up-circuit buds happen to work on adjoining soundstages, and Spade feels comfortable enough to flag him down for a chat. They dish on the pitfalls of the biz, how tough it will be to end the beloved Seinfeld, and all the behind-the-scenes machinations over the show’s still-warm time slot — with Spade’s own sitcom one of the prime contenders. ”I don’t know what they’re going to do with our show,” Spade tells Seinfeld with a shrug. ”I’m just a foot soldier, dude.” — And what sage advice does the King of Comedy offer his buddy? Spade laughs: ”I think he said, ‘Just stay out of my parking space, or you’ll be towed. Hard.’ ”

Rough town, Hollywood. And never rougher than right now, as a slew of NBC shows vie for the 30 minutes of prime real estate the network will sublet to one very lucky series this fall. Of course, everyone knows The Time Slot Formerly Known as Seinfeld comes with a hefty price: How do you follow up…nothing?

Some are looking no further than the moptopped Spade. Just Shoot Me — centering on a dysfunctional group of misfits duking it out at fashion magazine Blush — has emerged as one of the biggest ratings surprises of the season, with Dave Boy rising as TV’s patron saint of smarm. But let’s call a spade a spade: Does this still-gelling show have the chops to pacify a grieving, Jerry-less nation? Furthermore, do Spade and his costars even want so daunting a challenge?

Let the debate begin.

It’s another fine el nino morning in early February, and rain has delayed some of the Shooters for a reading of next week’s show. A goodwill gesture from NBC has arrived on time, though, and it’s Laurent Perrier champagne. The cause for celebration: Shoot has just landed a permanent Thursday slot — sandwiched auspiciously between Friends and Seinfeld. A Peacock exec clears his throat: ”You know, Union Square didn’t exactly set the bar high, but we think you guys can do better….”

”Hey, we like our bars set low!” interjects Shoot‘s creator and executive producer, Steven Levitan.

Actually, they’re happy to have any bar to clear. The sitcom was developed two years ago as a smug ode to the dissonance of 9-to-5 life and its cagier characters: brash magazine mogul Jack (George Segal), his naive, intellectual daughter Maya (Laura San Giacomo), high-strung ex-model Nina (Wendie Malick), quasi-slick photographer Elliott (Enrico Colantoni), and snippy assistant Finch (Spade). But Shoot fell victim to real-life office politics when NBC suits, after previewing the first six episodes, disagreed about the show. ”Some episodes, they looked at and said ‘Wonderful,’ and some, they said ‘I’m not sure we get this,’ ” says Karey Burke, NBC senior VP of prime-time series. ”But there was no nefarious plot against it.”

Maybe not, but Shoot was left off the fall ’96 schedule at the last minute (San Giacomo had already flown to New York for the announcement) in favor of another magazine-set comedy, Suddenly Susan. Levitan didn’t get mad; he got busy. With Shoot‘s order finished, he obliged NBC Entertainment president Warren Littlefield by agreeing to steer the sputtering Men Behaving Badly through season’s end. ”I was hoping to build a little goodwill,” says Levitan.

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